The Story of Electronics has made its debut today (teaser above), following the form of the original Story of Stuff video in 2007. The Story of Stuff, written and narrated by Annie Leonard, created waves of discussion about the environment and consumption in classrooms, homes, and workplaces around the country.
She [created the movie], she said, after tiring of traveling often to present her views at philanthropic and environmental conferences. She attributes the response to the video’s simplicity. “A lot of what’s in the film was already out there,” Ms. Leonard said, “but the style of the animation makes it easy to watch. It is a nice counterbalance to the starkness of the facts.” [New York Times]
The new electronics chapter takes a step beyond the original video’s take on the manufacturing process and consumerism to explain the concept of planned obsolescence, the idea that our electronics are being “designed for the dump”–that is, to be cheaply replaceable as quickly as possible. The video makes a point that these cheap electronics come with hidden costs–to factory workers, people in unsafe electronics recycling facilities, and to the environment.
It seems that every day brings a new electronic gadget to the market, whether it’s a smart phone, an electronic reader, a laptop the size and weight of a magazine, or a television the size of a wall. But each advance adds to the world’s electronic waste, which is the fastest-growing component of solid waste. Much of the electronic refuse ends up in developing countries, where workers strip down the gadgets to get at the copper and other valuable metals inside, often exposing themselves to toxins in the process. Now, scientists are calling for federal regulations in the United States to stem the tide.
Although the U.S. is one the world’s largest producers of electronic waste (e-waste), it is hardly a leader in addressing this problem, given that the country has “no legally enforceable federal policies requiring comprehensive recycling of e-waste or elimination of hazardous substances from electronic products,” the researchers say [Scientific American]. Instead, e-waste policies are left to the states, not all of which have laws on the books. In the article, published in Science, the authors note that the United States has not ratified the Basel Convention, which regulates the movement of hazardous wastes across international borders and has the support of 169 of the 192 United Nations member countries [Scientific American].
Electronics can contain a host of dangerous materials, from heavy metals to toxic chemicals. Toxic e-waste shows up in forms as varied as high lead levels in the blood of children in Guiya, China, where millions of tonnes of e-waste are illegally dumped, and as fire-retardant chemicals in the eggs of California’s peregrine falcons [CBC News].
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Image: Basel Action Network. E-waste in a Nigerian dump.
A new government report issues a harsh critique of the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate the tons of toxic electronic waste that are discarded each year. U.S. authorities have yet to develop a national approach for handling the waste, which often contains toxic metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Amounts are rapidly growing as consumers replace their laptops, cellphones and televisions [Washington Post].
These discarded devices often end up in slipshod recycling facilities in China, India, and Africa, the report says, where they both pollute the environment and threaten workers’ health. Jim Puckett, an activist with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which promotes responsible recycling, said he recently saw workers in Guiyu, China, burning wiring and using acid baths to extract usable ingredients. “It was a cyber-age horror show,” he said [San Jose Mercury News].